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Alice in Burnt Orange: Salvador Dalí’s rendition of the Lewis Carroll classic at the Ransom Center

By Alicia Dietrich

Sarah Sussman is a graduate student in the English Department at The University of Texas at Austin. Though currently writing about nineteenth-century American Spiritualism, she is interested in Surrealist art, children’s literature, and British literature as well.

Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel that stretches the imagination and playfully defies logic has been adapted by a number of artists throughout the years, but perhaps none have been so well-suited to put their own spin on the English author’s topsy-turvy adventure as Salvador Dalí. The surrealist artist’s galas might have rivaled the Mad Hatter’s tea parties, and his paradoxical identification of himself as a sane madman would have put him at home as one of Carroll’s whimsical characters.

Dalí’s illustrations for the novel come more than 100 years after its original printing with John Tenniel’s images. Although many will be familiar with Tenniel (a number of his images can be seen reproduced today on all sorts of Alice ephemera), the Dalí prints are far less common. Viewers will be struck by the artist’s intensely vivid, color-saturated heliogravure with woodblock prints. They offer a new way to read Alice’s Adventures, from a twentieth-century perspective only Dalí could provide—from an outlandishly sized, wide-eyed, dashing white rabbit, to dripping fluorescent mushrooms, to larger-than-life butterflies and, yes, even one of the artist’s signature melting clocks. It seems especially fitting that this portfolio is at The University of Texas at Austin, because Dali’s edition is highlighted entirely in burnt orange, from the portfolio’s burnt orange box, to its burnt orange typographical accents, to its featured frontispiece of Alice, looming large in frenetically etched orange lines, carrying a jump rope or a hoop against a cloud-scudded sky.

Published in New York by Maecenas Press–Random House in 1969, the portfolio-style book features 12 prints to correspond with each chapter of Carroll’s book and an original signed etching as the frontispiece. The Ransom Center’s copy is signed and one of 2,500 portfolios. Dalí’s rendition is a well-paired match for Carroll’s adventure and a lively part of the Ransom Center’s holdings.

Click on the thumbnails below to view larger images.

In the Galleries: Marc Chagall's "Let My People Go" from "The Story of Exodus"

By Io Montecillo

"Let My People Go" by Marc Chagall, 1966. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris.
"Let My People Go" by Marc Chagall, 1966. © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ADAGP, Paris.

From the very beginning of printing, the Bible was regarded as the ultimate challenge. It presented printers and artists with the daunting task of creating an appropriate medium for communicating sacred text. They met this challenge with widely divergent methods. Some favored sharp, clean typography and traditional artistic approaches, placing as little as possible between the reader and the word. Others celebrated the text with elaborate typographical or artistic interpretations of biblical passages.

One such example of the latter is this large publication in which the text of Exodus is paired with 24 color lithographs by artist Marc Chagall (1887–1985). The prints show Chagall’s expert use of color and are representative of the lyrical, dream-like scenes for which the artist is known. The Story of Exodus represents a major focus of Chagall’s work, namely Judaic spirituality and Hasidism. One of the great lithographers of modern art, Chagall produced more than 1,000 original lithographs over the course of his career.

Fifteen of the 24 prints from The Story of Exodus are on view in the exhibition The King James Bible: Its History and Influence through July 29.

Photo Friday

By Kelsey McKinney

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Undergraduate intern Michelle Bennight updates the inventory of paintings in the Ransom Center’s art collection, which included documenting works and confirming measurements and other information. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
Undergraduate intern Michelle Bennight updates the inventory of paintings in the Ransom Center’s art collection, which included documenting works and confirming measurements and other information. Photo by Jennifer Tisdale.
While visiting the Ransom Center on Tuesday, author T. C. Boyle signed the Center’s authors’ door. Photo by Pete Smith.
While visiting the Ransom Center on Tuesday, author T. C. Boyle signed the Center’s authors’ door. Photo by Pete Smith.
Visiting speaker, Shakespeare scholar, and Columbia University Professor James Shapiro views materials from the Ransom Center’s performing arts collection with Associate Curator for Performing Arts Helen Baer. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
Visiting speaker, Shakespeare scholar, and Columbia University Professor James Shapiro views materials from the Ransom Center’s performing arts collection with Associate Curator for Performing Arts Helen Baer. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

Donated Tom Lea drawings add depth to collection

By Jennifer Tisdale

The Harry Ransom Center recently received a generous gift of four Tom Lea drawings. Dating from 1931 to 1951, the drawings of dancers and an acrobat showcase another artistic focus of Lea’s (1907 – 2001) expansive career.

Donated by Sandra Snyder, the drawings were previously owned by her aunt, Martha Esquivel Hahn, of El Paso, Texas. Hahn, herself a dancer and wardrobe supervisor, was a friend of Lea. Hahn and Lea went to the same high school in El Paso together and were life-long friends. After living in Chicago, New York City, and Las Vegas, Hahn returned to El Paso, where she opened a ballet school. One of the drawings, Portrait of Martha, is of Hahn.

The four works will be added to the Ransom Center’s Sarah and Tom Lea art collection, which consists of the artist’s personal art works, including book illustrations, paintings, drawings, and lithographs. The Ransom Center also holds a large archive of manuscripts relating to Lea’s books, including The Brave Bulls (1949) and The Wonderful Country (1952), both of which were produced as films.

“It is a good day when someone contacts the Center about finding a proper home for their artwork, especially when the work is strongly associated with artists already in the collection,” said Ransom Center Associate Curator of Art Peter Mears. “Ms. Snyder’s thoughtful gift of Tom Lea drawings adds depth to the collection as well as new insight into this El Paso artist’s exceptional career.”

The Tom Lea collection is accessible for research in the Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Room. The Tom Lea Room (located on the Ransom Center’s third floor), which chronicles Lea’s life and career and includes period photographs and original works of art, is available by appointment.

 

Please click the thumbnails to view full-size images.

 

In the galleries: Jacob Lawrence’s "Eight Studies for The Book of Genesis"

By Io Montecillo

"Eight Studies for the Book of Genesis, No. 4" by Jacob Lawrence, 1989. © 2011 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
"Eight Studies for the Book of Genesis, No. 4" by Jacob Lawrence, 1989. © 2011 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000) received his early education as an artist in Harlem. By the time he was in his twenties, he had received national recognition for his work, notably “The Migration Series,” about the African-American migration from the South to the North following World War I. Lawrence spent most of the rest of his life in the Pacific Northwest, and at the time of his death, he was generally recognized as one of the most important African-American artists.

All eight of Lawrence’s large silkscreen prints for the Book of Genesis are on display in sequence in The King James Bible: Its History and Influence exhibition. They show the artist’s strongly colorful and mildly abstract style at its best. The words of the preacher invoke the simplicity and force of the King James Version.

Lawrence’s works and those of other artists who were inspired by the King James Bible are on view in the exhibition The King James Bible: Its History and Influence through July 29.

The company she keeps: Frida’s work among women surrealists at LACMA

By Jennifer Tisdale

Frida Kahlo’s 'Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird' (1940) on display in LACMA’s 'In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States.'  ©2012 Museum Associates/LACMA.
Frida Kahlo’s 'Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird' (1940) on display in LACMA’s 'In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States.' ©2012 Museum Associates/LACMA.

The Ransom Center recently loaned Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940) to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for the exhibition In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States.

Co-organized by LACMA and the Museo de Arte Moderno (MAM) in Mexico City, In Wonderland is the first large-scale international survey of women surrealist artists in North America. On view at LACMA through May 6, In Wonderland features about 175 works by 47 artists, including Kahlo, Lee Miller, Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Dorothea Tanning, Louise Bourgeois, and more.

Vogue highlights some of the works of the “beautiful dreamers” that can be seen in the exhibition.

Co-curated by Dr. Ilene Susan Fort, LACMA’s Gail and John Liebes Curator of American Art, and Tere Arcq, MAM’s Adjunct Curator, the exhibition will also travel to the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, from June 7 to September 3; and the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, from September 27 through January 13, 2013.

Kahlo (1907 – 1954) taught herself how to paint after she was severely injured in an accident at the age of 18. For Kahlo, painting became an act of cathartic ritual, and her symbolic images portray a cycle of pain, death, and rebirth.

Kahlo’s affair in New York City with Hungarian-born photographer Nickolas Muray (1892 – 1965), which ended in 1939, and her divorce from artist Diego Rivera at the end of the year, left her heartbroken and lonely. She produced some of her most powerful and compelling paintings and self-portraits during this time.

Muray purchased Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird from Kahlo to help her during a difficult financial period. It is part of the Ransom Center’s Nickolas Muray collection of more than 100 works of modern Mexican art, which was acquired by the Center in 1966. The collection also includes Still Life with Parrott and Fruit (1951) and the drawing Diego y Yo (1930) by Kahlo.

Kahlo scholar and biographer Hayden Herrera spoke about “Frida Kahlo: Her Life and Art” at the Ransom Center in June 2009, referencing sources of inspiration for Kahlo’s art.

Photo Friday

By Kelsey McKinney

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Exhibition Services staff members remove the ‘Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia’ display banner after the close of the exhibition.  Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Exhibition Services staff members remove the ‘Greenwich Village Bookshop Door: A Portal to Bohemia’ display banner after the close of the exhibition. Photo by Kelsey McKinney.
Preparator Wyndell Faulk and Chief Preparator John Wright carefully remove from display Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. Photo by Pete Smith.
Preparator Wyndell Faulk and Chief Preparator John Wright carefully remove from display Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. Photo by Pete Smith.
The Graduate School at The University of Texas at Austin interviewed University President William Powers Jr. at the Ransom Center about the school’s Powers Graduate Fellowship Program. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.
The Graduate School at The University of Texas at Austin interviewed University President William Powers Jr. at the Ransom Center about the school’s Powers Graduate Fellowship Program. Photo by Alicia Dietrich.

Only three days left to see Frida Kahlo's "Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird"

By Alicia Dietrich

Photo by Pete Smith.
Photo by Pete Smith.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940) is on display for only three more days at the Harry Ransom Center. This Sunday is the last day visitors can view the work before it travels to its next destination.

The painting, one of the Ransom Center’s most famous and frequently borrowed art works, has been on almost continuous loan since 1990. During that time, the painting has been featured in exhibitions in more than 25 museums in the United States and around the world.

You can view an interactive map that illustrates the travels of Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.

Later this year, Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird will be on view in a three-venue exhibition In Wonderland: The Surrealist Activities of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The exhibition will be on view at LACMA from January 29 through May 6; at the Musee National des Beaux-arts du Quebec in Quebec City, Canada, from June 7 to September 3; and at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, Mexico, from September 27 through January 13, 2013.

Occupy Wall Street 1939 AD

By Peter Mears

 

A bearded and robed figure, whip in hand, chases well-healed bankers and brokers in top hats down Wall Street. Their retreat, a frenzied stampede of cash, coins and streaming ticker tape, is followed by ranks of protestors carrying signs and banners reading, “Democracy,” “Racial Equality,” “Social Security,” and “Right to Work.” Elizabeth Olds’ lithographic print, 1939 AD, a modern reinterpretation of a famous biblical story, resonates today as it did almost three-quarters of a century ago during the Great Depression when millions of American workers struggled to make ends meet in a decaying economy. Olds’s satirical print, along with 11 other lithographs of the same time period (1934–1939), were reissued in 1986 as A Celebratory Portfolio to commemorate the artist’s 90th birthday. Her portfolio, a potent reminder of a dark period in America’s economic history, serves as a graphic example and tribute to the innovative arts programs established by President Roosevelt’s New Deal government under which Olds created and produced her prints.

Born in Minneapolis in 1896, Elizabeth Olds studied architecture at the University of Minnesota beginning in 1916 and later attended the Minneapolis School of Arts on scholarship. In 1921, she was awarded her second scholarship to attend the progressive Art Students’ League where she studied under painter George Luks, who became her mentor. Guided by Luks, Olds honed her drawing skills while on sketching trips throughout New York City’s ethnic neighborhoods. She also learned how to execute a portrait on these trips in the direct, vigorous style of the Ashcan School of which Luks was a member. In 1925, Olds traveled to Europe with financial assistance from friends, and in 1926, she became the first woman to secure a Guggenheim Traveling Fellowship, which enabled her to continue her studies in Europe until 1929.

An internship at a commercial printing company in the early 1930s—a time of transition for the artist—gave Olds the opportunity to become proficient in lithography. Inspired also by the Mexican muralists of the time, particularly José Clemente Orozco, Olds aligned her subject matter and style to make art that she considered “vital” and purposeful. In an interview with the Omaha World Tribune in 1935, Olds explained her artistic intentions:

“American artists have lately chosen to portray our own life. We find our subject on the streets, in the factory, the machines and workers of industry and on the farm. We aim to picture truly the life about us as the people we are in reference to the forces that make us. We choose all sides of life, searching for the vital and significant. What the artist says through his pictures is the important thing, not how it is done. …”

Thanks to the support of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), established in 1935 and its special programs such as the Federal Arts Program and the Public Works of Art Program, Olds maintained steady employment and utilized her printmaking skills to produce a number of deeply moving images, many of which are included in A Celebratory Portfolio. Olds focused primarily on the labor movement of the time period. Meat processing workers, coal miners, and steel workers were some of her favorite subjects as their working class ranks harbored many of the unemployed. Giving a gentle nod to the art of caricature, other more humorous works in the portfolio comment on the various social stereotypes found in Sidewalk Engineers, The Nun’s Union Demands Shorter Hours for Prayer, and the regimented ranks of the White Collar Boys. In A Sacred Profession is Open to College Graduates, Olds, a college graduate, fully sympathizes with the fears and trepidations of all college students confronting a weak job market.

Elizabeth Olds maintained a productive career throughout her long life before her death in 1991. Her pioneering work in printmaking showed how commercial lithography and silkscreen printing had the potential to become fine art forms. Over time, her interests, always socially conscious, focused more and more on the natural world as she moved from representation to abstraction and back again as easily as she could ride a horse (while studying in Europe she was a trick bareback rider in a Parisian circus). Olds has been the subject of critical essays on modern art and the women’s movement in art. Her work is found in the collections of The Brooklyn Museum; The Museum of Modern Art; The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Minneapolis Museum of Arts; the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; and the Ransom Center.

Please click on thumbnails to view larger images.

Image: “1939 A.D. [Jesus on Wall Street].”

Creepy, macabre, and bloody: Halloween assignment illustrates breadth of Ransom Center's collections

By Bethany Johnsen

Arthur Conan Doyle's Ouija board. Photo by Pete Smith.
Arthur Conan Doyle's Ouija board. Photo by Pete Smith.

Bethany Johnsen is an undergraduate intern at the Ransom Center who has been working with Cline Curator of Literature Molly Schwartzburg to gather materials for students for a visit on Halloween.

For the students in University of Texas at Austin English Professor Janine Barchas’s freshman honors seminar, a Ransom Center visit on October 31 will bring more than the usual bag of treats: a Halloween-themed presentation introducing students to the Center’s resources.

I assisted Ransom Center Cline Curator of Literature Molly Schwartzburg in putting together the presentation, and this process revealed the provocative connections that such a subject affords, and will, we hope, suggest to these students ways they might use the collections over the remainder of their time as students. With so many items relating to the supernatural, morbid, or just plain unusual to choose from, limiting the presentation to a manageable size was perhaps the most difficult part of the process.

With a topic as huge as Halloween and all its creepy associations, where does a curator begin? We wanted to pull from various collections to display the richness of the Center’s holdings. So while hours could be spent on the objects of horror from just, say, film, we restricted ourselves to the torso model of Robert De Niro’s makeup for his role as the monster in Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 adaptation of Frankenstein and the mask of (imitation) human skin from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).

Of course, the modern scary movie invokes a tradition long predating the twentieth century. The presentation will highlight older examples of fascination with the occult, from a sixteenth-century book entitled The discouerie of witchcraft,: wherein the lewde dealings of witches and witchmongers is notablie detected, the knauerie of conjurors, the impietie of inchantors…, (and so forth) to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Ouija board. And in case such historically important artifacts lack a certain flavor of whimsy, we were sure to include a blood-stained handkerchief from the personal effects of  printer T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, accompanied by a note reading “Dickie’s first cut sometime in November 1885.”

But many of the picks were not as immediately obvious candidates as century-old child blood.  Following a suggestion to investigate the Edward Gorey collection, given the American illustrator’s enormous influence on the contemporary Gothic aesthetic, I combed through his manuscripts to and came across a page that had—in addition to such phrases as “gothic,” “flamboyant,” and “arc cassé”—the words “danse macabre” scrawled across it. This page was not immediately remarkable in a series of brittle papers covered by Gorey’s doodles, but we were intrigued by “danse macabre” anyway. The dance of death, as we call it in English, is an artistic and literary genre that arose in the late medieval period to represent allegorically that death unites everyone, regardless of station or class; we must all dance with death. This symbol must have had special resonance in an age when death, and the harshest class distinctions were so ubiquitous. The Center holds wonderful examples of “dance of death” iconography from many periods, images that can be rather jarring.

Like Halloween traditions themselves, the Center’s holdings span many nations and centuries, and it is this diversity that allows the researcher to pursue unexpected links, like those that arise between twentieth-century artists and late medieval allegories.

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